Combustible Celluloid
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With: Rock Hudson, Jane Wyman, Agnes Moorehead, Conrad Nagel, Virginia Grey, Charles Drake, Gloria Talbott, William Reynolds, Hayden Rorke, Jacqueline deWit, Leigh Snowden, Donald Curtis, Alex Gerry, Nestor Paiva, Forrest Lewis
Written by: Peg Fenwick
Directed by: Douglas Sirk
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 89
Date: 08/25/1955

All That Heaven Allows (1955)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Secret Gardener

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

"Time, if anything, will vindicate Douglas Sirk," wrote Andrew Sarris in 1968. He was right. In 1994, John Travolta ordered the Douglas Sirk steak in "Pulp Fiction," which came two ways: burned to a crisp or bloody as hell. An in 1999, Universal dusted off four vintage Sirk films and toured them around the country as "Universal Sirk."

Earlier than that, Rainer Werner Fassbinder located the heroine of his 1973 film "Martha," on "Douglas Sirk Street"!

While we can't count out Sarris and Tarantino for their enthusiastic support, no one was ever a bigger Sirk fanatic than Fassbinder. Proof of this comes in his lengthy essay included on the Criterion Collection's new DVD of Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (1955). Reading through it, we know that Fassbinder worshipped, admired, and lived Douglas Sirk.

All That Heaven Allows arrives on DVD in tandem with Sirk's masterpiece Written on the Wind. Both come through in dazzling, gorgeous new transfers that preserve both films' vintage Technicolor magnificence. Written on the Wind, which sells for $10 less, does not boast nearly as many extras as All That Heaven Allows. Besides the Fassbinder essay, this deluxe DVD includes a video interview with Sirk, lobby cards, stills, and other great stuff.

Rock Hudson stars in Written on the Wind (1956, Criterion Collection, $29.95) as Mitch Wayne, friend of the rich and dysfunctional Hadley Texas oil family. Mitch grew up with the Hadleys; the drunken Kyle (Robert Stack) and the scandalous Marylee (Dorothy Malone), and considers them family. Mitch meets and falls immediately in love with a classy fashion designer (Lauren Bacall), but Kyle quickly woos her away with his expensive planes and aggressive style. Meanwhile, Marylee nurses an almost incestuous crush on Mitch and throws herself at him at every opportunity. During their most trying times, most characters are shown reflected in mirrors rather than head on. The wordless, atmospheric opening shot of Written on the Wind alone deserves a spot in the canon of great movie scenes.

Rock Hudson stars in All That Heaven Allows (1955, Criterion Collection, $39.95) as a woodsy tree grower who captures the attention of the older, lonely widow (Jane Wyman) and the two begin an innocent affair nevertheless frowned upon by the small town in which they live. To make matters worse, Wyman's grown children disapprove of the union, insisting instead that Wyman get herself one of those newfangled TVs, the "companion to all lonely women."

Though both stories verge on the ridiculous, it's hard to watch them without discovering Sirk's real intentions. Underneath the gloss and phony surfaces, these films explore the most disturbing aspects of human behavior, especially around chemical attraction and sex. And reading over Fassbinder's essay definitely helps put perspective on things.

Note: All That Heaven Allows was unofficially remade twice, both times with excellent results: in 1974 by Fassbinder as Ali: Fear Eats the Soul and in 2002 by Todd Haynes as Far from Heaven.

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